JEFFERSON CITY — Efforts to promote teaching the Bible and posting “In God We Trust” in Missouri schools mirror policies promoted by national Christian legislative organizations.
“Project Blitz” describes itself as a movement to “protect the free exercise of traditional Judeo-Christian religious values and beliefs in the public square, and to reclaim and properly define the narrative which supports such beliefs.”
The Missourian reviewed a 148-page document called the “Report and Analysis on Religious Freedom Measures Impacting Prayer and Faith in America” created in 2018 by the National Legal Foundation, Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation and the WallBuilders ProFamily Legislative Network. The document outlines policy priorities, model legislation, research and talking points for 21 suggested acts and resolutions in three categories: acts regarding the role of Christianity in U.S. history, proclamations recognizing Christian holidays and heritage, and acts and resolutions to protect the exercise of Christianity.
A fourth section of the document provides talking points to counter movements to outlaw conversion therapy and add sexual orientation and gender identity as legally protected classes.
One of the model bills in the document, the “Bible Literacy Act,” is similar in wording and structure to Missouri House Bill 267, introduced this session by Rep. Ben Baker, R-Neosho.
The bill would allow school districts to teach an elective course about the Bible. The legislation passed out of the House and moved to the Senate on March 25.
For example, both Baker’s bill and the Project Blitz model legislation state the following goal: “Teach students knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture, including literature, art, music, mores, oratory, and public policy.”
Baker said he had no prior knowledge of Project Blitz and had not coordinated with the organizations behind the model legislation.
Baker said he looks to see what other state governments have done about issues he cares about. In the case of Bible literacy classes, he looked at legislation introduced in Iowa and Kentucky for inspiration.
“I took both of those bills, looked at it, and kind of modified it for Missouri,” Baker said. “So there is a lot of the same language in the bills in other states.”
The text of the bill shares much wording with the Iowa legislation, introduced in January 2018 by Iowa Rep. Dean Fisher, R-Tama County. Both share wording with the model legislation in the Project Blitz document.
Fisher could not be reached for comment. He is a member of the Iowa Prayer Caucus, according to the National Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation website.
State Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, introduced a resolution in the Senate which would encourage schools to offer Bible literacy electives. The resolution does not mirror that wording of Baker’s bill or the proposed model legislation from Project Blitz.
Emery is chair of the Missouri Prayer Caucus Network, a state branch of the National Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation. Emery said he has attended meetings of the national organization, which contributed to the creation of the Project Blitz document.
Emery said that he hasn’t been in contact with anyone from the National Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation about his resolution.
“I don’t think anyone from that foundation has been here recently,” Emery said.
He said that the Missouri Prayer Caucus Network doesn’t hold meetings and is more of “a way to keep track of who is in favor of that arena.”
Emery said that he and his staff did not draft the resolution, but that he could not remember who brought it to him.
“Someone brought me the language, and I reviewed it and liked it,” he said.
There is no law currently preventing schools from teaching about the Bible in the context of history or literature, Emery said. That’s why he introduced a resolution to encourage the teaching of the Bible instead of proposing a new law.
“A lot of our teachers today have been raised in this era where they were told it was illegal to have the language of the Bible in schools, which is absolutely not true,” Emery said.
Emery said that he supports Baker’s bill, but would like to see special instructions for teachers included in the language in order to clearly define the line between an “evangelistic approach and a literature approach.”
House Bill 577, introduced by Rep. Dean Dohrman, R-La Monte, would accomplish another goal outlined in the Project Blitz document. The bill would require public schools to display “In God We Trust” in a prominent location such as a school entryway or cafeteria.
Such legislation is called the “National Motto Display Act” in the Project Blitz document.
Dohrman’s bill is much shorter than the model legislation and does not mirror the wording, but both designate “In God We Trust” as the national motto and require its display in a visible location in public schools.
He said he was not familiar with Project Blitz and that the bill was a “solo effort.”
“I picked this up because 16 other states have it,” Dohrman said. “I thought, ‘Well, it is our national motto. It’s important for us to know our national symbols and our national mottos.’”
WallBuilders ProFamily Legislative Network and the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation did not respond to requests for comment.
“We do not proactively connect with state legislators, as drafting (model legislation) is our only role,” National Legal Foundation president Steven Fitschen said in an email. “We might talk to state legislators who contact us about issues of drafting, but that has not happened with any Missouri legislators.”
Project Blitz has sparked criticism from law experts who say the movement seeks to blur the line between church and state.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, described on its website as an “advocacy organization dedicated to advancing the constitutional principle of church-state separation,” has organized against Project Blitz and similar movements.
Columbia lawyer Steve Scott, an Americans United member, found out about Project Blitz through the organization’s news releases. When he read about the Bible literacy bill, he sent the Missourian links to the Project Blitz document and other information from the AU.
“In my way of thinking, it’s just one more hole in the wall—and there’s been a lot of holes poked in the wall—of the separation between church and state,” Scott said. “At some point, the whole thing could crumble.”
Supervising editor is Mark Horvit.